‘Color Out of Space’ is Here to Blow Your Mind Just as You Asked

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CREDIT: RLJE Films

Color Out of Space is basically the inverse of Cats. While the nonsense with the Jellicles was disturbing in just the ways one would expect, this blast of no-holds-barred horror sci-fi is satisfying in the ways that you would expect a movie based on an H.P. Lovecraft short story starring Nicolas Cage and directed by Richard Stanley after a long stint in director jail to be. In many ways, it’s like Annihilation but if instead of starring a quintet of women, it starred Cage with his typical five-times-bigger-than-the-average-person personality. After a couple hours’ journey through an unremitting vision, it concludes on a note (for the survivors) of “Well, that was weird. At least now we can move on with our lives.” And you can, too!

I give Color Out of Space A Million Colors Into My Face.

‘The Turning’ is a Workmanlike Piece of Gothic Horror Until It Is Overcome by an Astoundingly Abrupt Ending

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CREDIT: Patrick Redmond/Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures

Starring: Mackenzie Davis, Finn Wolfhard, Brooklynn Prince, Barbara Marten, Joely Richardson

Director: Floria Sigsimondi

Running Time: 94 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for General Spookiness, Fantastically Rude Children, and Artfully Composed Bathtub Shots

Release Date: January 24, 2020

Take a classic gothic horror tale, pair it with a director of classic music videos, and what do you get? Almost certainly a spooky atmosphere. But will the narrative be just as effective? The Turning is based on Henry James’ 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw and it’s directed by Floria Sigismondi, who is best known for colorful clips like Katy Perry’s “E.T.” and Rihanna’s “Sledgehammer.” Perhaps that rock ‘n’ roll background is why The Turning is set squarely in 1994, with the death of Kurt Cobain serving as one of the last moments that Kate (Mackenzie Davis) experiences in the outside world before descending into a pit of terror. She has been hired as a live-in tutor and nanny for a couple of orphans in a perpetually autumnal mansion that looks at least as old James’ story.

Kate is immediately haunted by ghostly visions, and while she generally trusts her own eyes, she has reason to believe that she is just dreaming or that the kids are playing tricks on her. While the younger of the two, Flora (Brooklynn Prince), is mostly sweet, the older one, Miles (Finn Wolfhard), is the epitome of disaffected, possibly sociopathic adolescence. The Turning is most effective as a portrait of how hate can linger and infect an entire household, whether or not the phantom sightings are real ghosts. Miles was apparently close with the former groundskeeper, who died in an accident and is described as a brute of a man. Meanwhile, the housekeeper (Barbara Marten), who looks like she’s been there since the house was built, is aware of all of these dynamics but is more concerned about keeping everything difficult under wraps.

For the most part, The Turning is a fairly straightforward, patient (perhaps to a fault) tale about how difficult it can be to escape a toxic environment, even when it is so clear that you must get out. It seems to be heading towards a conclusion that works perfectly fine for such a setup, but then it is interrupted by one of the most puzzling endings I’ve ever seen. This hardly qualifies as a spoiler because it is nowhere near clear what this finale actually is. It’s enough to make you suspect that the last reel of film is missing. (Or, since we’re now in a digital projection era, I suppose the error would’ve been that the last 10% of the file didn’t convert properly.) The closest comparison I can think of is the famously nonsensical ending of the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, but in that case, it is clear that it was tacked on after the fact and thus easy to dismiss as not really part of the rest of the movie. I would be willing to do the same with The Turning‘s ending, but it very much feels like it is there for a reason. Alas, it’s a reason that never reveals itself. It’s just plain baffling, and thus hard to call this movie anything but incomplete.

The Turning is Recommended If You Like: Leaving five minutes before the ending

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Dead Fish

This Is a Movie Review: Jennifer Lawrence Goes Deep in the Graphic Spy Thriller ‘Red Sparrow’

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CREDIT: Murray Close/Twentieth Century Fox

This review was originally posted on News Cult in February 2018.

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Jeremy Irons, Ciaran Hinds, Bill Camp, Joely Richardson, Sakina Jaffrey, Mary-Louise Parker

Director: Francis Lawrence

Running Time: 139 Minutes

Rating: R for Nudity as Power, Pleasure, and Disgrace; Spycraft Violence; and Slice-and-Dice, Pounding Torture

Release Date: March 2, 2018

Red Sparrow is the latest spy story that hinges on a final act revelation of a mole. the logic (or lack thereof) of such a twist is something I often can’t make heads or tails out of. The narrative-consuming part of my brain just is not that wired that way. But as far as I can tell, this particular mole’s exposure does pass the plausibility test, though it is not especially impactful. But Red Sparrow’s intrigue thankfully goes beyond any straightforward conception of traitors and double agents. In fact, it questions and pokes at (without quite fully deconstructing) the entire concept of double agency when it involves someone who seems to be an ideal fit for the job but does not want anything to do with professional deception.

Jennifer Lawrence stars as Dominika Egorova, a Bolshoi ballerina who suffers a career-ending injury and then faces the crisis of how she will be able to continue to take care of her widowed mother. So her uncle Ivan (Matthias Schoenaerts) recruits her to become a spy at the Red Sparrow School, which essentially requires its trainees to sacrifice their entire identities to the Russian government. Meanwhile, CIA agent Nathaniel Nash (Joel Edgerton) gets mixed up with Dominika as he hunts down high-level Russian spies. (He is temporarily suspended after making a huge mistake out in the field, but that does not affect matters as it much as it seems like it is supposed to.) Nash and Dominika’s motivations appear to match up, but of course there is that age-old question: can opposing sides truly trust each other when working together? In this case, the answer actually does appear to be yes, and a more pressing question is: is it possible for individuals to get what they want when insidious bureaucratic forces are pulling the strings everywhere?

Fundamentally driving Red Sparrow and several of its characters is the idea that the Cold War never really ended (it just broke into many pieces, as one of them puts it). That may sound a little over-the-top for a film aiming for some degree of verisimilitude, but then you see what former KGB agent Vladimir Putin is up to, and all the alleged Russian hacking in foreign elections, and on second thought, maybe this does not sound so farfetched at all. Even if it did, it would be perfectly legitimate to put something insanely conspiratorial on film. The problem is that we have seen this sort of cinematic Russian subterfuge plenty of times before.

That familiarity is overcome a decent amount by Charlotte Rampling, whose performance sets the tone for the state of modern Russian spycraft. She is the headmistress of the Sparrow School, and she insists that you call her “Matron.” We have seen this sort of officious, beat-you-down-and-re-mold-you character in plenty of other iterations, but Rampling brings a level of camp and matter-of-factness hitherto unseen. Not only, in her parlance, is every person “a puzzle of need,” but also so many people today are “drunk on shopping and social media,” which would normally sound irritatingly reductive but comes off as venomously delicious when she says it.

Red Sparrow’s most lasting impact is derived less from espionage and more from its examination of human behavior and interpersonal power dynamics. There are several scenes featuring graphic torture and nudity (including rape and attempted rape), and they do not come off as simply exploitative, because they are there to elucidate the effects they have on individuals. It is heavily implied that Sparrows are really groomed from birth to give themselves over entirely to the government. They are indoctrinated that their bodies are not their own, that they must give themselves up to give their marks exactly what they want in service of a greater power. Dominika, while in many ways an ideal recruit, never fully gives in. She decides that she is willing to make her body available, but she maintains a level of resistance. When naked, she asserts her power, which is resonant in the Me Too era (and eternally so) and metatextually, it works as a statement from Lawrence, herself a victim of a nude photo hack, that she will work this intimately only on her own terms. Thanks to her steely performance, Red Sparrow works as a defense of the dignity of every individual human being.

Red Sparrow is Recommended If You Like: The Americans, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Oppressed women taking control, Oppressed citizens taking control, Frightening headmistresses, Torture scenes with a purpose

Grade: 3 out of 5 Floppy Disks